- Inside the Classroom
- Lower Division
By Ryan Schafer, Denver JDS 2nd Grade Teacher
The Denver JDS second grade recently studied what it means to be an activist in our world today, and in different stages of history. We began our unit by reading books about people and figures who made changes in the world, big or small, such as; Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Lorax (Because he speaks for the trees!), Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Audrey Faye Hendricks, and Harvey Milk. As a class, we discussed the importance of making change and standing up for what is right. The students "planted" a good citizen garden, we learned about what it means to be a good citizen by reading the book "What Can A Citizen Do?". They then decorated flowers with things they believe makes a good citizen.
We learned about the terms upstander, bystander, and activist. The students learned that sometimes, being a bystander (standing by and not taking action) is the safest way to be an activist. During our introduction to activism, we learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who marched together in Selma for equal rights. Rabbi Heschel said, "When I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, I felt my feet were praying." The students examined this quote and we discussed what it might mean to pray with our feet. We then held our own "march" in the classroom. Each student wrote down two things they wanted to see changed in their world on a pair of paper feet. We then laid out our paper feet around the room, and traveled ("marched") around, looking at each students' dreams for a better world.
Many of the activists we studied were adults, so we asked the children if they believe that activism is only the responsibility of adults, they were adamant that children also have the ability and responsibility to make important changes in the world. This is when we began our research projects. Each student was assigned a partner or group and an activist. We studied eight different children who were either changemakers today or in the past. The students worked through each step of the writing process; brainstorming/researching, drafting, editing, revising, and finally; publishing. The students and their partners used authentic texts, and articles to gather information on their activists which they then compiled on a note catcher. Then, the children used guiding questions to compose the four paragraphs of their research essays. After the initial drafting step, the children worked together to edit their work for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and accuracy. After checking in with a teacher, they began to write their final copies. The final copies of their work were then typed up and put onto their magazine pages on Canva which they fully designed with their partners. (You can see various pages from the magazine at the bottom of the blog).
This project was so fulfilling and gave students the language to discuss and understand major current events in the United States, we were so impressed by their abilities to reflect and consider ways that our world can be a better, more inclusive, and kind place. As the students learned more about making change in the world, it inspired them in many ways. One of our students even took action for a cause he believes in by writing a letter to our school's administration about his opinions on our kippah policy. The children were amazed to learn how recent some of the important changes in our world are. For example, we occasionally do gratitude writing. After our activist unit, one of our students wrote that, "she is grateful for people who change the world because without them, she would not be able to get an education because she is a girl." When asked about why she wrote that, she shared that she learned that people around the world still can't go to school, especially girls, when we studied Malala Yousafzai.
My favorite part of this project was the after-effects, the children's eyes were opened to real issues around the world like world hunger, education, equality, environmental conservation, renewable energy, and more. These topics are still brought up by the children and they make connections to changemakers and upstanders regularly. They have shared instances where they have witnessed inequality or injustice and that they understood someone was not being treated fairly, just because of who they are. We have seen the students make active choices to be inclusive, just, and to treat all of the people around them with love and kindness as a result of what we learned together.